To Absent Friends

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(Before we begin: today’s post, like Friday’s, is one that has nothing to do with the ostensible subject of this blog. You are, as always, not obligated to read it. I promise to return to music stuff later in the week.)

During the Winter Olympics, one of the curling teams we watched included a member with the same unusual last name as my late friend Dave, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. In 2009, I wrote the following paragraph about him, and I repeated it in 2019. Since it is still the best description of the arc of our friendship, here it is again:

On the first day of fourth grade, Mrs. Goodmiller introduces us to a new student, David. She says he has just recovered from open-heart surgery. On that day, I decide that I will make friends with David. We will go through a lot, and put each other through a lot, over the years to come. We’ll fight, rebuild our friendship, fight again, rebuild again. We will be college roommates briefly, and he will stand up in my wedding. His heart trouble will kill him at age 23, and I will never have another friend so close.

Another friend I think of often has been gone for 10 years now. I wrote this on March 22, 2012. 

My friend Rick should be turning 52 today, except he’s dead.

I mentioned one day about a month ago on Twitter that I had to give a eulogy. It was his. What you’re reading here isn’t the speech I gave, although perhaps it should have been.

I hadn’t heard much from him in recent years. The last time I saw him alive was two years ago. Not long after, I got an oddly worded letter from him that seemed to suggest I had abandoned our friendship. I tried to write a response but never got very far, probably because he was right. He still lived in our hometown, but I didn’t make the effort to keep in touch. The reasons why don’t matter now. Some are legitimate, and some are not.

We first became friends in grade school, 1968 or 9. [I think it was actually 1967.–Ed.] I am not sure how or why we became friends—a shared interest in sports, probably, but also maybe a feeling on my part that he needed friends. That makes me sound more like a hero than I deserve to be, but I had that impulse when I was very young, to befriend people who seemed like they needed befriending. And he needed befriending, because Rick was the kind of person who got picked on a lot. Among other quirks, he had a bad stutter, which made him an easy target. I have one, too, and he used to accuse me in jest of stuttering around him to make him feel better.

Rick was raised by his grandparents. I can see us even now, running around in the big house they had for a while. He lived in lots of different places around town during our growing-up years, although I was surprised to find two years ago that he still had the phone number that had belonged to his grandparents when I first knew him.

In high school, he sometimes would say to me, “I don’t know why you want to be friends with me,” as if to suggest that somebody like me—class officer, good grades, etc.—shouldn’t want to pal around with him. But I liked him. He was funny. (Some of the greatest laughing fits of my life were inspired by things he said.) He was kind, and he was enthusiastic about things that were important to him.

I was not always a good friend to him. I sometimes fell in with the crowd and picked on him in a way I hated when people did it to me. I’m sorry about that now. I’m also sorry I never figured out what to say to him two years ago, and that he had to die before I could.

He would have been surprised at the turnout for his funeral, not just how many people showed up but who they were, and at the things people said about him. I am pretty sure he never knew how much people loved him.

That’s not his fault, however—it’s ours.

When we remember absent friends, implicit in the act is the hope that when we ourselves go absent, our friends will remember us. It will allow whatever time we spent, love we shared, good we did, to live on a little longer, and that’s the best we can hope for. 

4 thoughts on “To Absent Friends

  1. Gary Omaha

    Beautiful, Jim, thank you. And (no surprise) this set my mind to thinking about the friends I’ve loved and lost over the years.

  2. TimMoore

    So much of this reminds me of my friend , Gary. We were friends growing up , thru high school.. He was my best man at my wedding. He held on until 2 months after.. He had leukemia. He was 26..Let’s not hold the good things to say to people until they are gone. Tell them today.

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